Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Steelers.
B QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton took a beating, and somehow kept getting up. Say what you will about Newton, but you can't question his toughness. Newton, playing with cracked ribs and on a surgically repaired ankle, was sacked three times and was hit on several other occasions. Newton completed 24 of 35 for 250 yards and a touchdown, but still lacks his trademark mobility when the pocket breaks down.
C- RUNNING BACKS : You could almost give the backs a "medical hardship" grade because there aren't many of them left standing. DeAngelo Williams missed his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, Jonathan Stewart left in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return and fullback Mike Tolbert played with bruised ribs. Stewart averaged 6.2 yards a carry before his injury.
B RECEIVERS : Rookie Kelvin Benjamin keeps making impressive catches. Benjamin posted career highs with eight catches for 115 yards, and made a great touchdown grab late in the game. With Jerricho Cotchery out and Jason Avant limited with hamstring injuries, Philly Brown pulled down seven passes for 66 yards.
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F OFFENSIVE LINE : No one on the line played well. Center Ryan Kalil, guard Amini Silatolu and left tackle Byron Bell gave up sacks, and the front five was beaten several times by the Steelers' three-man rush. That's alarming. Ron Rivera said the Steelers showed defensive looks they hadn't used in the first two games, and clearly the Panthers didn't adjust well.
D DEFENSIVE LINE : In their second game without Greg Hardy, the Panthers' pass rush suffered badly. Speed rusher Mario Addison had the only sack on Ben Roethlisberger, and highly-paid defensive end Charles Johnson (one tackle, no pressure) again was a non-factor. Defensive tackle Kawann Short was the most disruptive player up front and needs to be on the field more.
D LINEBACKERS : Thomas Davis had bad run fits on two of the Steelers' long runs, although it appeared he was held on one of them. Davis left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, the extent of which was unknown. Luke Kuechly had a game-high 14 tackles. But when two running backs both go over 100 yards, it was not a good night for the linebackers.
D DEFENSIVE BACKS : Free safety Thomas DeCoud had a pass interference penalty and was run over by LeGarrette Blount at the goal line. Strong safety Roman Harper couldn't keep up with the Steelers' backs when they would break into the second level, and the cornerbacks couldn't cover Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Backup corner Josh Norman replaced Antoine Cason in the second half.
F SPECIAL TEAMS : Two huge special teams mistakes led to 14 points for the Steelers in the second half. Defensive end Wes Horton and Norman jumped offsides when Pittsburgh was lined up for a field goal, giving the Steelers a first-and-goal at the 7 and leading to a Roethlisberger touchdown pass. Later, undrafted rookie returner Philly Brown muffed a punt, then fumbled it. Norman failed to recover it and the Steelers recovered in the end zone for a put-away touchdown.
D COACHING : Yes, the running backs were banged-up. But offensive coordinator Mike Shula abandoned the running game way too soon (five rushes for 10 yards in the first half). And it's inexcusable how the Steelers kept getting pressure on Newton using a three-man rush. The defense was overmatched by the Steelers' offensive line and had gaping holes in the middle of its 4-3 base, and the special teams were undisciplined.